Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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In Ocean City, it’s been a month since former City Manager Dennis Dare was given the resign-or-be-fired ultimatum. The “new normal” is starting to set in around City Hall without Dare (a City Hall regular for almost three decades) with Mayor Rick Meehan acting as the city manager.

While the tension may be calming in Ocean City a bit, news continues to be made, and there were some significant developments this week that I was following. Here’s a look at a few:

When Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins removed his name from consideration as the next city manager last week, it had to come as a huge blow to the City Council majority’s plans.

It’s no secret at least a few majority members had privately tapped Adkins as Dare’s replacement, probably even before Dare was ousted. Surely, they did not anticipate Adkins giving them the proverbial “thanks, but no thanks.”

Two weeks ago, after a private vote to not go national with its city manager search, it was all but a certainty an internal candidate would be named as Dare’s replacement. It was at that time more a matter of when than if.

Today, it looks to be the exact opposite, as the council this week voted unanimously to conduct a national search. Of course, this does not mean a current department head could not get the job or even that a high-ranking private sector employee is not being considered, but indications are the few people currently employed by the city and qualified to be the chief executive officer do not want the job under these circumstances.

Therefore, it seems likely the next city manager is going to come to Ocean City courtesy of the national search. However, if I have learned anything over the last month, it’s that this situation is extremely fluid and nobody seems clear on what’s going to happen next.

As the process unfolds, it will also be worth following whether the city appoints a committee to review city manager applicants and who will be a part of that group. It has been suggested to the city by a knowledgeable individual familiar to the city through its internal audit selection process that four council members — two from each side — serve as well as Human Resources Director Wayne Evans, a private citizen and potentially a private business owner.

More to come here in the weeks and months ahead, and all we request is a transparent process.

A tremendous pay raise for Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore will come before the Mayor and Council next week, and the timing is raising some eyebrows.

When Larmore became the city’s first municipal fire chief after a tumultuous period of in-fighting between various levels of the city, he assumed the job with an annual salary of a dollar. Since taking the job, he has been largely praised for his work.

When asked this week about the proposed raise, Human Resources Director Wayne Evans was not in a position to confirm or deny. “The topic will be addressed at the Oct. 11 work session. That’s all I can confirm for you at the moment. The council president will address it at the Oct. 11 work session,” Evans said.

My sources confirm Larmore has understandably asked to get a raise. On the table reportedly is a raise to the 18th grade on the city pay structure, giving him an annual salary of $120,707.

The timing is interesting with long-time Fire Marshal Sam Villani’s retirement and the promotion of Deputy Fire Marshal David Hartley as his replacement. City folks indicate Hartley’s deputy post will not be filled and that Villani’s salary when he exits is higher than what Hartley will now receive, meaning the department budget will not be altered tremendously.

Besides the city manager and fire chief issues, City Hall is transitioning in other ways these days.

The search continues for the replacement for City Clerk Kathy Mathias after she passed away this summer.

Additionally, the city’s planning department will lose one of its mainstays next year, as Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston, who was been with the city since 1982, will retire next year on his 30th anniversary.

When asked this week, Houston said the decision was planned all along and has nothing to do with current events in the city.

“The reason why is 30 years,” Houston said. “There’s no ulterior motives or anything like that. My plans have been to work here for the 30 years and then figure out what to do from there. I wanted to give plenty of notice before we got into the budget process.”

Houston said his decision had nothing to do with the removal of Dare, who coincidentally started two weeks after Houston did in 1982.

“My work anniversary is Sept. 27 so I said one year ahead was plenty of time to let people know of my plans,” he said. “It was nothing other than that.”

In other news, it’s with sadness I announce our long-time circulation manager, Bob Hamlett, passed away on Wednesday. Bob was a calm and gentle soul who had been fighting cancer for more than a year. While he gave it a good fight, the disease ultimately spread too fast and he was unable to overcome it. He was admired by many in our family here at The Dispatch and he will be missed.

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